#BringBackOurGirls Belfast protest by Nigerian Association of Northern Ireland by Allan Leonard for Forum for Cities in Transition 17 May 2014
Members of Northern Ireland’s Nigerian community held a #BringBackOurGirls protest in Belfast on Saturday morning, 17th May, to express their concern for the abducted schoolgirls still missing in their home country.
More than 200 Nigerian teens, all female, were taken from the village of Chibok in Nigeria by Islamist terror group Boko Haram last month.
A crowd or around 30 people, made up mainly of members of the African and Caribbean diaspora, stood outside the City Hall with placards calling for the safe return of the girls.
The demonstration was organised by the Nigerian Association of Northern Ireland (NANI), alongside the African and Caribbean Support Organisation Northern Ireland (ACSONI).
Chairperson of NANI Dorcas Obikoya, who moved to Northern Ireland almost nine years ago, said the community wanted to make its feelings known:
“We are telling the Nigerian government to look into the actions of the Boko Haram and release those children,” she said.
She said people in Northern Ireland had been very supportive:
“We see support from the PSNI, and support from the city council. It is all over the news here in Northern Ireland, so it is very, very amazing the support we have received here.
“As mothers, as parents we felt it was important and necessary to show our concerns and make our voices heard,” said Ms Obikoya.
She further said support in Northern Ireland was vital:
“We are appealing to all Nigerians, and all Nigerian friends to support us to campaign for bringing our girls back.”
Among the protesters were Forum for Cities in Transition members Peter Osborne (FCT Belfast) and Michael Doherty (FCT Derry-Londonderry).
Mr Doherty demonstrated his appreciation of the traumatic event in Nigeria, as he was part of a delegation of two dozen who travelled from Northern Ireland to attend the large international annual gathering of FCT members, in Kaduna, Nigeria last November:
“Boko Haram literally means anti-Western education, and the intent of this outrageous abduction is remove these girls’ opportunities for any attainment in life, and to marry them off as obedient, house-imprisoned wives.
“Now at this calamitous time is exactly when we in Northern Ireland need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our fellow brothers and sisters who are the integral persons who will make conflict transformation a reality, wherever in the world it is taking place,” said the Director of the Peace and Reconciliation Group (PRG).
Training at a Syria refugee camp for a better future by Quintin Oliver for Forum for Cities in Transition 21 January 2014
Even in the bright wintry sunshine of northern Iraq in January, a well-organised and newly laid out refugee camp looks and feels bleak.
8,000 refugees from the Kurdish region of eastern Syria have been billeted here in Darashakran camp by the UNHCR. Many recently arrived across the border as they flee conflict and deprivation at home; some have been moved from Domiz camp in Duhok, overflowing with the continuing trek of families finally leaving their homes, fearing for their safety.
This camp is less than four months old, so the tents are new, the pathways still compacting, bulldozers everywhere, electric wires hanging morosely, children excitedly exploring. The barbed wire fences hemming us all in appear redundant, since we are seemingly in the middle of the stark empty desert countryside, some 50 kilometres, an hour’s long drive west of Erbil, Kurdistan’s bustling main city. Blue and white tents as far as the eye can see, then breeze block ovals marked out in readiness for as many refugees again, then bleak stony, dusty infertile plains. No way out; nowhere to go; but safe … for the moment.
I had left my western comforts on New Year’s Eve to volunteer with an inspirational project www.eposweb.org run by the fantastic Emanuela del Re — an Italian dynamo of an activist, professor, mediator and humanitarian leader. She had designed an educational programme ‘My Future’ for refugees and, funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had pioneered a partnership with local Kurdish universities to deliver classes, workshops and intellectual stimulation for 18-30 year-olds in the Kurdish camps. It was online too — www.myfuture-eposmae.net — no matter that broadband remained an aspiration.
The routine was simple; unable to take up any sleeping space at the camp, we stayed at a modest Erbil guesthouse, travelling each morning to pick up our rota of volunteer professors and drive across the desert, past various checkpoints and through the entrance barrier to camp; we had been allocated three huge tents, housing 75 plastic chairs, three hanging light bulbs and a whiteboard; nothing else. Within minutes, the students flocked towards us, took off their muddy shoes and sat expectantly. We had interviewed and hired ‘tutors’ from among the refugees, as our interpreters and aides; we worked in English (as an educational tool itself and ‘window to the world’), Arabic, Kurdish and local dialect Kurmanji. The sessions buzzed with an air of curiosity, mutual aid and solidarity with each other.
It quickly became clear that our target age group range was hopelessly narrow; there is a primary school on camp, but nothing beyond that; teenagers came to tell us they had not been to any classes for six months; parents begged us to take their children; unemployed teacher refugees offered to help us. We asked for a fourth tent, more chairs; our daily finish time was extended by popular demand to 18.00, and then often to complete their tasks, they pleaded to stay on later. When the electricity failed, I thought we would have to wrap up, but no, mobile phones clicked on and little beams of light enabled us to continue for another hour, as we shivered in chill night air.
Gender balance was 60:40 in favour of women, about one third of whom wore headscarves; at the beginning, the sexes sat apart at opposite sides of the tent, but soon they mixed, when they realised that our workshop style of learning accommodated group work, world cafe tables (without the coffee!), open space approaches and role-play. The tutors translated consecutively, the local professors adjusted their lecture styles accordingly; some students huddled by the white board to copy down the English and Arabic words; eager hands rose politely whenever we posed an open question.
Topics were broad — citizenship, human rights, public opinion, politics, social media, the internet, public speaking, the risks of human trafficking, and social change by social movements. We set up working groups, undertook role play, allocated challenges and tasks, sought compromise through negotiation workshops, and told stories from our experiences. The atmosphere was electric, the hunger for learning was palpable, the sense of freedom liberating.
At the end of the 12-day course, 475 certificates of attendance were issued, prized possessions for diligent students. Some confessed they only came at first for something to relieve boredom, but left inspired; others reported they learned more than ever before in the top-down didactic Syrian educational system; new friendships were established, relationships begun. One refugee explained he had already undertaken the ‘My Future’ course with Emanuela in Domiz camp from where he transferred, but asked to be allowed in again — he brought his pals along too. A woman shopkeeper apologised each day for being late, but explained she had to sell her few vegetables before her learning. another mother breast-fed in class. Others took notes and returned the next day with translations into three languages, in perfect handwriting on a jotter sheet or corner ripped from a flip-chart. One learned how to Tweet, others wrote passionate journalism about their situation — all uploaded to their own internal website www.myfuture-eposmae.net
Outside our teaching tents, however, the atmosphere remained a mix between quiet dignity and sullen anger: why are we here, away from home? When will we go back? Why are we locked in and unable to leave without a pass? How can we find work? What is our future?
Our small group of outsiders was entertained royally in the most extraordinary of conditions; I have never eaten rice and beans, humous and salad, washed down by hot, sweet tea before, from the floor of a dimly lit tent with a family of five young children excitedly practising their English, swapping stories of their home village and sharing their aspirations for a better future. Humbling is overused in these situations, but humbled I was.
What does it mean? We reported back to UNHCR and UNICEF officials in Erbil, who were delighted with our positive reports, but for whom the refugee crisis seems overwhelming; for them, anything that gave hope was welcome; troubles and difficulties clearly dominated their agendas. If we weren’t reporting riots and demanding police action, then we could be dismissed. Our fear, nevertheless, is that in six months the camps will be seething with unrest. We had real difficulty controlling waves of younger children playing outside our classes; one child was trampled in the rush to liberate our juice cartons and biscuits generously provided by the excellent Barzani Foundation the local NGO on site. I had to separate teenage fist fights outside my tent one day, as frustrated youngsters scrapped and fought, in the absence of any other outlet — no sporting or cultural facilities, for example, only a small primary school and health centre. And we heard that those men (women are not permitted to leave camp apparently) entrepreneurial enough to find work in Erbil, had to pay $25 for transport, in return for a $20 pay packet.
What should be done? The UNCHR obviously do a tremendous accommodation job and provide basic education and health services; but more is needed. Where are the other complementary programmes, where are the efforts to engage, deploy and mobilise these intelligent and enthusiastic people? How can we stimulate internal action and external support?
WorldStage News: Kaduna State (Nigeria) is to host the fifth edition of the global conference of the Cities in Transition scheduled for between November 4 to 8, the Chief of Staff to the Governor and Chairman of the Local Organising Committee, Yahaya Aminu has said.
Aminu, while addressing a news conference along with the Director of the Forum of Cities in Transition, Prof. Padraig O’Malley, said that about 92 international delegates and 12 African countries that has passed through one crisis or the other are expected to attend and share experiences at the conference.
According to him, delegates are expected to attend the conference from Iraq, Isreal, Palestine, Albania, Bosnia and Harzegovina, Cyprus, Ireland, South Africa, Liberia, South Sudan, Ethipia, Rwanda among others.
He said that participants will also be expected from Nigerian cities with history of crisis such as Warri, Ife/Modakeke, Kano, Shagamu, Nasarawa, Bauchi, Plateau etc.
Also speaking, Prof. O’Malley who is the convener of the conference explained that the Forum for Cities in Transition was formed to create a platform for reconciliation between communities that have suffered from conflict and are divided along ethnic and religious lines and create dynamics that serve as catalyst for change.
He said further that the Cities in Transition conferences are held yearly in cities that are divided by conflict, adding that participants who are drawn from conflict stricken areas of the world come together to share experiences and mutual similarities before making commitments and resolutions to resolve the crisis and bridge the divides.
He said “the Forum for Cities in Transition (FCT) is set out to create a platform for reconciliation between existing conflict inflicted societies and communities. This is based on the fact that cities in transitions in countries divided by conflict are in better position tom help other cities in similar situation as each city is at a different stage of transition.
“Apart from Kaduna, we have 12 cities across 12 continents, 14 cities across Africa, six cities in Nigeria and seven African countries involved. They have common problems ranging from policing, garbage collection, housing, road construction, the provision of health and welfare services to identifying flash points and interfaces that trigger violence”.
Kaduna State Governor H.E Mukhtar R. Yero welcomes the inauguration of the FCT 2013 Local Organisation Committee, by the State Chief of Staff, Alh. Yahaya Aminu, at Government House Kaduna.
Hadeeza Remawa (ACAI Events) at inauguration of FCT 2013 Local Organisation Committee.
Inauguration of Local Organising Committee (LOC) for FCT 2013 Conference Kaduna.
Pastor James Wuye and Imam Mohammed Ashafa (Kaduna Interfaith Center), at inauguration of FCT 2013 Local Organisation Committee.
Young leaders ready to develop conflict transformation network Mitrovica/Mitrovicë 28 September 2013
An international conference of young leaders from eight cities in transition from conflict successfully concluded with pledges of mutual assistance in a series of projects to improve the livelihoods of citizens in all their communities.
From 23rd-27th September, Mitrovica hosted the inaugural Youth Forum for Cities in Transition, an offspring of the Forum for Cities in Transition (FCT). Over 50 delegates — from Belfast, Derry-Londonderry, Jerusalem, Kaduna, Kirkuk, Ramallah, Tripoli and host city Mitrovica — shared and explored how their local experiences resonate with each other.
Through this engagement process, delegates gained invaluable and practical knowledge, which they will use to build sustainable cooperative relationships within and across their communities and cities.
Delegates identified current challenges to develop conflict transformation, and collectively formed creative and practical solutions.
For example, all delegates have pledged to use social to continue the dialogue begun in Mitrovica, to keep learning from and supporting each other. All will take part in short film to inform their city’s youth about this event in Mitrovica.
Other pledges include:
Jerusalem-Northern Ireland youth worker exchange
Mitrovica-Jersualem-Ramallah youth exchange
Christian-Muslim youth dialogue workshop and peace club (Kaduna)
Conflict city clean-up in all FCT Youth Cities on UN Peace Day 2014
Young children mutual play activities (Mitrovica)
People with special needs social enterprise project selling handmade arts/crafts (Ramallah)
Mitrovica Rock School study visit to Tripoli
Concluding the conference, organiser Milos Golubovic said:
“I am very pleased on the result of this inaugural FCT youth gathering, especially the willingness of all the delegates to come to our city and listen to everyone else’s experiences.
“I am confident that every city delegation will apply what they find relevant for their own circumstances, in a practical way. That is the whole point of the Forum for Cities in Transition.”
Milos’ colleague, Ardiana Osmani, added:
“Milos and I have benefitted from our participation in other Forum events. We knew that there were great opportunities for other young people to benefit from this process of mutual learning and respect.
“I am excited about developing this conflict transformation network, through the cooperation of all the participating cities.”
The “Inaugural Youth Conference Forum for Cities in Transition” was convened by FCT Mitrovica youth workers, Milos Golubovic and Ardiana Osmani, and facilitated by Community Building Mitrovica in cooperation with D&G Solutions. The conference took place at the Cultural Centre, Mitrovica/Mitrovicë.
The conference received sponsorship and support from the governments of United States, Norway and the Netherlands, as well as from SPARK and the United Nations Development Programme, Mitrovica Municipality, International Business College Mitrovica, Forum for Cities in Transition, IKV Pax Christi and Mitrovica Forum “Mitrovicians for Mitrovica.
Liderët e rinjë të gatshëm që të zhvillojnë rrjetin e transformimit të konfliktit Mitrovicë/Mitrovica 28 shtator 2013
Konferenca ndërkombëtare e liderëve të rinjë nga tetë qytete në tranzicion nga konflikti në mënyrë të suksesshme e përfunduan me premtime të ndihmës së ndërsjellënë një varg projektesh në mënyrë që të përmirësojnë jetërat e qytetarëve në tërë komunitetin e tyre.
Prej dates 23-27 shtator, Mitrovica ishte nikoqir i inagurimit të forumit të të rinjëve për qytetet në tranzicion. Më shumë se 50 delegatë — nga Belfasti, Derry-Londonderry, Jerusalemi, Kaduna, Kirkuku, Ramallahu, Tripoli and qyteti nikoqir Itrovica – ndanë dhe shqyrtuan se si përvojat e tyre lokale të tingëllojnë arsyeshëm me njëri-tjetrin.
Përmes këtij procesi të përfshirjes, delegatët fituan njohuri të paçmuara praktike, të cilat do t’i përdorin në mënyrë që të ndërtojnë marrëdhënie të qëndrueshmë bashkëpunuese me të gjitha komunitetet dhe qytetet.
Delegatët identifikuan sfidat e tanishme në drejtim të zhvillojnë transformimin e konfliktit, si dhe në mënyrë kolektive formuan zgjidhje krative dhe praktike.
Për shembull të gjithë delegatët premtuan që të përdorin mediat sociale në drejtim të vazhdimit të dialogut të nisur në Mitrovicë, që të vazhdojnë të mësojnë dhe përkrahin njëri-tjetrin. E gjithë kjo do të paraqitet në një film të shkurtër që do të njoftoj të rinjët e qytetit sa i përket kësaj ngjarje në Mitrovicë.
Premtimet e tjera përfshijnë:
Këmbimi i punëtorëve rinor mes Jerusalemit dhe Irlandës së Veriut
Shkëmbimi i të rinjëve Mitrovicë-Jersualem-Ramallah
Modul I dialogut të të rinjëve dhe klubet e paqes mes të krishterëve dhe muslimanëve (Kaduna)
Pastrimi i qytetit nga konflikti, aktivitet që do të mbahet në të gjitha qytetet e të rinjëve të FQT-së në Ditën Ndërkombëtare të Paqes të KB-së 2014
Aktivitete lojërash të ndërsjella (Mitrovicë)
Njerëzit me nevoja të veçanta projekt i ndërmarrësisë sociale ku ata i shesin punimet e tyre të artit apo punë doret e tyre (Ramallahu)
Shkolla e rokut nga Mitrovica vizitë studimore në Tripoli
Duke e përmbyllur konferencën, organizatori Millosh Golluboviq tha:
“Jam tepër i nderuar në rezultatin e tubimit inaugural të të rinjëve të FQT-së, posaqërisht me vullnetin e të gjithë delegatëve që të vijnë në qytetin tonë dhe të dëgjojnë përvojat e të tjerëve.
“Besoj se çdo delegacion i qyteteve do të aplikoj në një mënyrë praktike atë çfarë gjejnë relevante për kushtet e tyre. Kjo është edhe esenca e Forumit për Qytetet në Tranzicion.”
Kolegija e Milloshit, Ardiana Osamni shtoj:
“Milloshi dhe unë kemi përfituar nga pjesëmarrja nga ngjarjet e tjera të forumeve. Ne e patëm parasysh se ato ishin mundësi shumë të mira edhe për të rinjë e tjerë që të përfitojnë nga ky process të respektit dhe mësimit të ndërsjellë.
“Unë jam shumë e entuziazmuar sa i përket këtij rrjeti të transformimit të konfliktit, perms bashkëpunimit të të gjitha qyteteve pjesëmarrëse.”
Konferenca inagurale “Forumi i të rinjëve të qyteteve në tranzicion” është thirrur nga FQT punëtorët e rinjë të FQT –së në Mitrovicë, Milosh Golluboviq dhe Ardiana Osmani, dhe ndihmuar nga Community Building Mitrovica në bashkëpunim me D&G Solutions. Konferenca u mbajt në Qendrën e Kulturës, Mitrovicë/Mitrovica.
Konferenca është sponzoruara dhe përkrahur nga qeveritë e SHBA-ve, Norvegjisë dhe Holandës, si dhe nga SPARK-u dhe nga Kombet e BAshkuara Programi Zhvillimor, Komuna e Mitrovicës, Kolegji Ndërkombëtar i Biznesit në Mitrovicë, Forumi i Qyteteve në Tranzicion, IKV Pax Christi dhe Forumi i Mitrovicës Mitrovica Forum “Mitrovicasit për Mitrovicën.
Mladi lideri spremni da razviju mrežu transformacije sukoba Mitrovica/Mitrovicë 28 Septembar 2013
Međunarodna konferencija mladih lidera iz osam gradova u tranziciji iz sukoba uspešno završena zaključcima o međusobnoj pomoći i saradnji u nizu projekata u cilju unapedjenja uslova života građana u svojim zajednicama.
Od 23. do 27. septembra, Mitrovica je bila domaćin prvog omladinskog foruma za gradove u tranziciji, izdanak foruma za gradove u tranziciji. Više od 50 delgata – iz Belfasta, Derija-Londonderija, Jerusalima, Kadune, Kirkuka, Ramale, Tripolija i domaćina Mitrovice – delili su i istraživali svoja lokalna iskustva i načine na koji se oni podudaraju.
Kroz ovaj proces angažovanja, delegati su stekli neprocenjiva i praktična znanja koja će koristiti da izgrade održive odnose saradnje unutar i van svojih zajednica i gradova.
Delegati su identifikovali trenutne izazove za razvoj transformacije konflikta i zajedno došli do kreativnih i praktičnih rešenja.
Jedan od primera je taj da su se svi delegati obavezali na korišćenje socijalnih mreža za nastavak dijaloga započetog u Mitrovici, kako bi nastavili da uče i podržavaju jedni druge. Svi će učestvovati u kratkom filmu kako bi informisali omladinu iz svojih gradova o ovom dogadjaju u Mitrovici.
Ostali zaključci uključuju:
Razmena omladinskih radnika izmedju Severne Irske i Jerusalima
Hriscansko – Muslimanska radionica dijaloga mladih i osnivanje mirovnog kluba (Kaduna)
Čišćenje konflikta u svim gradovima foruma za gradove u tranziciji na dan mira Ujedinjenih Nacija 2014
Zajedničke aktivnosti za decu (Mitrovica)
Projekat preduzetništva za osobe sa posebnim potrebama i prodaja ručnih radova (Ramala)
Studijska poseta Mitrovačke rok škole Tripoliju
Zaključujući konferenciju, organizator Miloš Golubovic je rekao:
“Veoma sam zadovoljan rezultatom prvog FGT omladinskog okupljanja, posebno na spremnost svih delegata da dodju u naš grad i saslušaju iskustva ostalih.
“Uveren sam da će svaki od delegata da primeni na praktičan način ono što smatraju relevatnim za svoje okruženje, što je i poenta foruma za gradove u tranziciji.”
Miloševa koleginica Ardiana Osmani je dodala:
“Miloš i ja smo imali koristi od našeg učešća na različitim dogadjajima foruma. Znali smo da postoje velike mogućnosti za druge mlade ljude da imaju koristi od ovog procesa uzajamnog učenja i poštovanja.
“Uzbudjena sam zbog razvoja mreže transformacije konflikta, kroz saradnju svih gradova koji su ucestvovali.”
“Prva konferencija za mlade foruma za gradove u tranziciji” sazvana je od strane FGT omladinskih radnika Miloša Golubovića i Ardiane Osmani, a vodila je nevladina organizacija Community Building Mitrovica u saradnji sa nevladinom organizacijom D&G Solutions. Konferencija je održana u kulturnom centru u Mitrovici.
Konferencija je održana pod pokroviteljstvom i podrškom vlada Ujedinjenih Nacija, Norveške i Holandije, kao i SPARK-a i programa Ujedinjenih Nacija za razvoj, opštine Mitrovice, medjunarodnog biznis koledza u Mitrovici (IBCM), Foruma za gradove u tranziciji, holandske organizacije IKV Pax Christi i mitrovackog foruma “Mitrovcani za Mitrovicu”.
“Terrorists tried to divide us, but we are now stronger together”: Hasan Turan (Kirkuk Provincial Council) visit to Northern Ireland by Allan Leonard for Forum for Cities in Transition 15 August 2013
On the back of the political assassination of a fellow member of Kirkuk Provincial Council, its Chairman Hasan Turan travelled to Northern Ireland for a weeklong series of meetings and events, to exchange knowledge and experiences in dealing with societal conflict, both in Kirkuk (Iraq) and Northern Ireland. The visit was organised by the Belfast group of the Forum for Cities in Transition (FCT).Read more →
At Parliament Buildings, where the Northern Ireland Assembly sits, I was responsible for organising an event for our Forum for Cities in Transition project, which is an international network of mayors, councillors, municipal officials, business people, and representatives of the voluntary and community sector.
The Forum for Cities in Transition is an initiative of the John Joseph Moakley Chair at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The Secretariat is share by the Northern Ireland Foundation and the Moakley Chair.
The main objective of the event was to highlight and increase awareness of:
the work of the Forum’s members in Derry-Londonderry, especially the hosting of the annual Forum conference in the Maiden city, 23-26 May 2011
the developing relationship between Derry-Londonderry and fellow Forum cities, especially Mitrovica (Kosovo).
In regards to the first, there are two publications that have been produced (see embedded versions below), both with support from the Community Relations Council(CRC):
Bridging the Gap, which is an official report of last year’s conference, and provides general background of the Forum and its work
Shared Space Issue 13, a more academic focused journal published by the CRC; this issue was dedicated to the proceedings of last year’s conference
In regards to the second, there was a recent study trip by Derry-Londonderry Forum members to Mitrovica. This was a reciprocal trip of a study visit by Kosovo Police members from Mitrovica to Derry-Londonderry in May 2011.
During that March trip in Mitrovica, the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, William Hay MLA, attending a meeting of the local Forum group, after a walking visit of the city, including the northern, Serbian-populated section.
The event at Parliament Buildings on 12th June was well received by those who attended, which included former Assembly Speaker, Lord John Alderdice; current Assembly Deputy Speaker, Francie Molloy MLA; MLAs from Foyle and East Londonderry: Pat Ramsey, John Dallat and David McClarty; Robin Newton MLA; Minister for the Department of Employment and Learning, Stephen Farry MLA; Ray Mullan and Bebhinn McKinley (Community Relations Council); Stephen Moore and Graeme McCammon (NI-CO); and other associates and friends.
The Speaker, William Hay MLA, was scheduled to address the audience, but was unable to leave the proceedings of the Assembly; Deputy Speaker, Francie Molloy MLA, spoke on his behalf, underlining the Assembly’s desire and commit to develop practical links with legislative assemblies on other areas of conflict or post-conflict, which is a validation of the Forum’s principle that cities that are in conflict or have emerged from conflict are in the best position to help other cities in the same situation.
Several other speakers followed, with Michael Doherty as chair of the Derry-Londonderry Forum serving as emcee. I produced the following video, which encapsulates all of the presentations as well as the background and current work of the Forum:
I was grateful for the photography services of Kevin Cooper, who demonstrated his professional acumen in securing a good variety of images of the day. I highly recommend Kevin and look forward to using him again:
Here are the said reports with following press statement:
FORUM FOR CITIES IN TRANSITION 2ND ANNUAL CONFERENCE
DERRY-LONDONDERRY 23TH – 26TH MAY 2011
Bridging the Gap tells the story of the Forum for Cities in Transition — its birth and underlying philosophy. It also describes what the 2011 conference sought to do and reflects on the difference that it has made in the journey to peace, both locally and internationally.
Shared Space is a research journal that addresses themes of peace, conflict and community relations in Northern Ireland, and is published by the Community Relations Council.
A special issue was dedicated to the work of the Forum for Cities in Transition. The Forum is grateful to the Community Relations Council for providing an invaluable opportunity to present the Forum’s work through the Bridging the Gap report and the special issue of Shared Space.
FORUM FOR CITIES IN TRANSITION PRESS STATEMENT 13 JUNE 2012
“Maiden City acts on shared experiences”
The city of Derry-Londonderry has celebrated a significant contribution to lasting peace, not only within its own constituency but also in 12 cities in conflict zones across the world.
Yesterday saw the launch of Bridging the Gap — a report of a major international conference held in the city last year. The event was held at Parliament Buildings, with support from the Speaker’s Office.
The conference demonstrated how political and community leaders of Derry-Londonderry are actively working with cities in other conflict zones to take practical actions that improve the livelihoods of all citizens of the Maiden City.
The report was published with backing from the Community Relations Council, and describes the work of the Forum for Cities in Transition and proceedings of its annual conference in May 2011 in the city’s Guild Hall.
Former Chair of the local Derry-Londonderry Forum group, Angela Askin (Community Relations Officer, Derry City Council) said:
“The conference brought together over 70 delegates from 12 cities that have experienced violent conflict — places as diverse as Kirkuk in Iraq; Jerusalem in the Middle East; Kaduna in northern Nigeria; and Mitrovica in Kosovo.
“It was an opportunity for people who are working through their own deep wounds of division to honestly share how they are meeting the challenges in their communities transitioning from conflict to lasting peace. We are not just an annual gathering or a mere talking shop — our actions are making the momentum for peace unstoppable.”
Askin thanked all funders who supported the conference, including Monitor, The Ireland Funds, the International Fund for Ireland, and especially Irish Aid (Department of Foreign Affairs), whose vision for offering local experiences for useful and practical undertakings coincides with that of the Forum’s.
The Forum for Cities in Transition is an international network of mayors, councillors, municipal officials, business people, and representatives of the voluntary and community sector. It is a means of bringing together many different sectors of local society to find new ways of working together for the common good.
The Forum works on the principle that cities that are in conflict or have emerged from conflict are in the best position to help other cities in the same situation.
The Forum is an initiative of Professor Padraig O’Malley (John Joseph Moakley Chair at the University of Massachusetts Boston). The Secretariat is shared by the Northern Ireland Foundation and the Moakley Chair.
Allan Leonard (Director of the Northern Ireland Foundation) remarked upon the work of members of the Derry-Londonderry Forum’s work:
“On behalf of the Forum Secretariat, we could not be more pleased with the local ownership and execution of last year’s conference. The Derry-Londonderry Forum excelled at delivering outcomes that it pledged at previous Forum gatherings.
“For example, there have been two exchanges between local PSNI officers and their counterparts in the Mitrovica branch of the Kosovo Police, learning from our community based policing model.”
The report’s author, Earl Storey, explained how Derry-Londonderry was witness to key events that shaped Northern Ireland’s conflict over the years:
“Last May we had the opportunity to invite those from other conflict zones, to share our story of our continuing journey towards peace. It was an encouragement to us to reflect on how far we have progressed on that journey — breaking a historic cycle of division and violence.
“It also reminded us of what drives our desire for peace. There is nothing so heart-rending as seeing the raw pain of a family who have lost a loved one to violence. This is the real purpose of bringing cities together in the Forum for Cities in Transition — so we never have to see that again — the human cost is too great.”
The 2012 annual conference of the Forum for Cities in Transition will take place in Kirkuk, Iraq, from 7-11 October.
My first Balkan adventure by Allan Leonard for Forum for Cities in Transition 24 March 2010
For work, I headed out to Mitrovica, Kosovo, to meet our conference coordinator, Mia, her staff, our Forum for Cities in Transition participants, and to inspect progress on some of the technical aspects for our forthcoming conference in May.
This was the first time I have been anywhere in the Balkans (though for southeastern Europe, I have been to Bulgaria). I flew to Prishtina via Podgorica on Montenegro Airlines. Saved a few pounds, but don’t know if I’ll do that again, as Podgorica is a very small airport (one large lobby waiting area, one electrical outlet). I wasn’t quick enough to take a photo of the farm tractor pulling the aircraft closer to the gate!
It was great to have Mia collect me at the airport in Prishtina, and to give me the essential details about the situation at hand. I knew this would be an intense week of learning and working.
I have to say, reading Tim Judas’ book, Kosovo, was a good idea. Although it’s likely too superficial for anyone in the know about Kosovo politics, I do recommend it as a primer.
An immediate observation was the plethora of KFOR advertisements. They were everywhere, displaying positive public awareness of their duties. A notable one is of two older men, one dressed as a national Serbian and the other as Albanian, with the slogan (sic!), “the winter will pass by easier with tolerance”. What is notable is that both actors are Albanian, the one dressed as Serbian relatively well known in the community!
One of my first tasks was to inspect the desired venue for the conference, the Culture Centre, which lies on the south bank of the Ibar River, at the foot of the Mitrovica Bridge that connects (divides) Mitrovica South (mainly populated by Albanians) and Mitrovica North (mainly populated by Serbians, but with particular Albanian neighbourhoods).
Glad I did an inspection. While the building appears structurally sound, there is much renovation work to do inside. We compiled a list of items to follow up with the mayor, whom we met that afternoon.
Next I met a pair of Mia’s key staffers, Milos and Ardiana, which was a pleasure. Very impressed with their obvious commitment to this project, and with the work they showed me.
And then there were meetings with local participants of our Forum. Many meetings, all useful and constructive.
But back to my discovery process.
I quickly sensed a love-hate relationship between the local population (both Serbian and Albanian sections) and “the internationals”, i.e. EU, UN, external NGOs. A sense of sincere appreciation for stability that has been delivered, but at an increasing risk of a semi-dependency culture.
Put another way, towards the end of my stay a local young man asked me what I thought of the people I have met. I replied that it’s been all great, I’ve gotten along well with everyone. But then I added, “Except some of the internationals. They make me pause and think.” Standing next to him, the man’s friend said, “Sounds like a smart person.”
I came to appreciate the local pride in the the Trepca (TREP-cha) mining company, which once employed many thousands of people. My understanding is that with the onset of the wars in the 1990s, the main Trepca industrial complex stopped functioning, and it hasn’t been replaced by any other major economic activity. When you walk the streets of Mitrovica, you’ll find rows of small kiosks and stands of individuals selling basic wares.
But the pride remains. It could be debased into a melancoly nostalgia, but my impression was that it serves as a motivator to make Mitrovica a great city again. The challenge is to identify the right types of business development and investment (which is one of the objectives of our forthcoming conference).
I demonstrated by pride by finding a Trepca football scarf. Best souvenir possible, me thinks.
One day, Milos and Ardiana were in charge of an entourage of us, and showed us to what they deemed the more notable parts of the city, north and south. Driving up the hills, past more Trepca mining sites, evoked my drives across the lost industrial centres of Pennsylvania. The Soviet-era plaques from the 1960s speak of another era.
But we learned that the history goes much further back, with a church ruin that easily dates back several hundred years (1600s?), with Welsh and English-built residences nearby. The mineral resources of this section of the Balkans have been obviously exploited for centuries.
A prominent landmark is a Tito-commissioned monument on Miners’ Hill. No one could give any detailed explanation of what the structure represented, beyond something to do with mining. Only after my departure did Mia learn that the two vertical posts represent forearms, holding the large horizontal, semi-tubular cart reminiscent of those that ferried coal from the mines to the processing plants. You can see this monument for miles.
My week in Mitrovica was a busy one. Although my work was evenly paced, I was exhausted by the end of it. I knew it would be intense. But what I was underprepared for (novice travellers take note) was that everyone smokes, all the time, and you’ll need to keep up with all of the macchiatos consumed during any given day (apparently the Albanian ones are better than the Serbian ones, but I couldn’t really tell the difference).
So, having survived this new experience, I’ll be back for more, even before our conference.
Mural painting of famous Ibar River/Mitovica scene, on wall of room inside Cultural Centre, Mitrovica, Kosovo.
Welcome sign for Mitrovica, erected by United Nations Kosovo Team (UNKT). This is one of few signs that has not become defaced. Mitrovica, Kosovo.
Dual language road sign for Belgrade and Podgorica. Note also the yellow circle road signs for lorries and tanks. Mitrovica, Kosovo.
Main Trepca mining complex, now disused. Mitrovica, Kosovo.
Dual-language sign for Mitrovica, in Prishtina, Kosovo.
UMass Boston professor Padraig O’Malley laid a wreath today at the site of a bombing in Iraq that killed at least 72 people last month which appeared to be aimed at fomenting ethnic tensions in the volatile Kirkuk region.
Kirkuk is one of five “divided” cities participating in a peace forum established in Boston by O’Malley this past April. Elected representatives from Kirkuk visited Massachusetts this past April to learn about how Boston had overcome violence and division during the busing crisis of the 1970s.
The group toured Boston neighborhoods that had been impacted by violence, led by Robert Lewis Jr., the Boston Foundation’s vice president, whose home was fire-bombed in 1976, presumably because his family were the first blacks to move into a white housing project in Maverick.
Other participants included representatives from Mitrovica, a city divided between Kosovo and Serbia; Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, claimed by both Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities; and Derry/Londonderry and Belfast, in Northern Ireland.
After the meeting in Boston, the group pledged to meet annually and share experiences.
O’Malley traveled to Kirkuk after a series of deadly bombings to read a letter of condolence to Kirkuk’s Provincial Council from the group.
“When one of you dies, all of us die a little, too,” he said. “We stand with you in resolute solidarity.”
Stratagem Iraqi delegation By Allan Leonard for Forum for Cities in Transition 15 May 2009
Last week, Stratagem (NI) Ltd hosted a delegation of representatives from Kirkuk, Iraq (and some for other places), for a week-long series of meetings and seminars. Programme was under a United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) contract. Topics included:
an overview of the Northern Ireland peace process
internal governance of Northern Ireland
its constitutional relationships with the rest of the United Kingdom and with the Republic of Ireland
There was also an excursion to Derry/Londonderry (with a mayoral reception, Tower Museum as well as Apprentice Boys visit, finished with a welcome by deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
I enjoyed tagging along, being an impromptu technical assistant, notetaker, and photographer.
One afternoon there was an organised tour through north and west Belfast. Think not “black taxi” but “big white coach” tour! I was impressed what narrow streets the drive managed to get us through.
During this tour, narrated by mural expert Bill Rolston, we stopped at a number of sites, including the new 180-foot work on Cupar Way, which is part of the Greater Shankill Partnership’s “If Walls Could Talk” project. There are individual panels for Israel, Palestine, Shanill, Falls, Nicosia, Baghdad, and Berlin. Poetically ironic were photographs the Iraqi delegates were taking of themselves standing in front of the Baghdad section.
On Thursday, I helped out setting up portable headsets. This “Infoport system”, made by Sennheiser, is a clever, portable, convenient method for interpreters, who can whisper the language translation so as not to disturb the original presenter.
One of the sessions was on financing of a devolved, regional government. This was held at the Northern Ireland Audit Office. There were informative presentations by John Dowdall (NI Comptroller & Auditor General), Sir Nigel Hamilton (former Head, NI Civil Service), and by Brandon McMaster (NI Assembly Public Account Committee).
Lord John Alderdice made an impromtu appearance, arriving from presenting a report by the Independent Monitoring Commission. Lord Alderdice emphasised what he described as the crucial role that public civil servants in Northern Ireland played in realising what was agreed under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. He described how the political party dimension in Northern Ireland complicated this work, presenting Sir Nigel as an example of how his commitment made such an important, positive contribution to creating a working Northern Ireland government.
Lord Alderdice added that even where the international community wants to help in conflict situations, and where the local politicians also aspire to progress conflict management/resolution, if there is an insufficient civil service to keep the process of government going, then it won’t work. Here, he cited the current poor situation in Nepal. He also described the shortcomings in the Middle East process, where a one-off meeting can be organised, but there is no systematic continuity.
The next stop for the delegates was Groundwork, where they heard alternative perspectives of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, from previous Assembly Junior Minister, Dermot Nesbitt (UUP), and former Assembly Minister for Finance and Personnel, Sean Farren (SDLP).
Friday was full of events in Derry/Londonderry. Quintin wanted to present Mayor Gerard Diver with a poster from a recent conference in Boston (that several of us attended), so I duly drove out from Belfast, with poster in the back seat.
After the Mayor provided us with a tasty lunch, he provided a tour of the Guild Hall, which is still under repair. The delegates then got an escourted tour through the Tower Museum before walking on the city’s famous Walls. With clear views of the Bogside, I trust the flying Palestinian flags weren’t raised especially for our Palestinian delegate!
The final session of the day was a programme summary, which was interrupted by another impromptu visit, this time by deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness. The delegates were suitably impressed and all wanted their photographs with this man who encouraged them to exercise leadership. Here, I suddenly became the club photographer, taking snaps from the dozen cameras strapped to my wrists! I managed to get a colleague to take one with yours truly in the frame.
Mr McGuinness left, and the programme lesson review continued at St Columbs House. Meanwhile, I left with programme organiser, Andrew Gilmour (UNAMI), whom I drove back to Belfast City Airport to catch his flight. We talked a bit of shop, but also about some return tourism suggestions.
On a serious note, by all accounts, the programme was a worthwhile and noteworthy success. From what I witnessed, the delegates certainly paid attention, as their quetions to the presenters got ever more specific during the course of the week. I look forward to some of the follow up work.